Image via CrunchBaseTwitter hosts approximately one million tweets per hour. In mid-September, the site will accept its 4 billionth tweet. Everyone knows there is wisdom in all that group thought--some even predict Twitter could be the next Google--but how can you tap the brainpower of Twitter's 6 million (give or take) users?
That's Twitter's $64,000 question (or, according to Scoble, the $5 billion question). The reason there's so much hype about a microblogging tool with almost no apparent means of revenue or profit is that everyone realizes the amazing value contained in all those 140-character status updates.
What does this mean to you as you conduct research to assist your clients, your small business, or other interests? How can you turn those billions of tweets into knowledge you can leverage?
There are plethora of paid services and tools available for monitoring sentiment and knowledge, but since the R&D budget for Experience: The Blog is somewhat south of $.01, I cannot share any insights about these offerings. It is a sign of the growth of Twitter and other Social Networks, as well as the explosion of awareness about the importance of Social Media to business, that the list of paid offerings seems to grow daily: Crimson Hexagon, radian6, Techrigy, Sysomos, J. D. Power, Visible Technologies, Tealium, dna13, Cymfony, BrandsEye, Trackur, Spiral16, BuzzLogic, ChartBeat, Attentio, Nielsen BuzzMetrics, Biz360, and on and on and on.
But you don't need deep pockets to derive insight from the Twitterverse. Those on a budget (or without a budget) who want to tap Twitter for wisdom can select from a number of tools that are available at no cost. Here are some of my favorites. If you have others to add to the list, please comment!
Track Tweet Volume
There are a lot of search engines and trend-tracking tools available, but in my opinion one stands out for the precision and amount of data it makes available. Although a bit buggy, Trendtistic is still worthwhile.
For terms and phrases with a reasonably high volume of tweets, Trendtistic furnishes custom graphs of Tweet volume over the past 180 days. The Y-axis represents the percentage of Tweets that mention the desired topic, and the X-axis is a timeline that can be set to specific time periods. Among the helpful features are the ability to enter and compare more than one term at a time and a method for embedding charts into sites and blogs.
Track Yourself on Twitter
I've always felt that the narcissistic aspects of Twitter were overstated, but it is interesting to note how many tools are available to help compare one's Twitter habits to others. A few to check out include:
- Twitter Analyzer provides your volume of tweets, number of conversations, reach, common subjects, the apps you use, and other aspects of your Twitter habit.
- Twitter Grader compares you to others and furnishes a score on a 1 to 100 scale where 50 represents an average Twitterer. You can easily compare your Twitter profile to others in your city or state. How the site computes the actual score is a deep, dark secret.
- Twitterholic shares a list of the most followed Twitterers and also permits you to find where you sit on that list.
- Tweeps.info is a bit like a stripped down Twitter Analyzer. Check out your average number of tweets per day, your frequency of hashtag use, your social ratio, and top terms contained in your tweets.
- TweetPsych puts you and your tweets on the couch and evaluates your Cognitive, Primordial, Conceptual and Emotional Content.
- TweetStats is yet another tool to graph your Twitter habits. This handy site presents the number of tweets you send per month, your tweet density by day of the week and time of day, and the top people you retweet or to whom you reply.
Track Sentiment on Twitter
There may be no hotter topic in social marketing circles (besides Social Media ROI) than how to track sentiment. To be honest, the free sentiment-measuring tools are more toys than they are business research applications, but they are not without merit.
TweetFeel allows for real-time sentiment tracking of Tweets based on the search term entered. The site labels tweets red or green based on an analysis of the sentiment in the Tweets. Half the fun is watching for instances when TweetFeel gets it wrong (such as when it labeled the tweet "It'll only be a matter of time before disney rules the world. Then we really are f***ed." as a positive one for Disney), but the site does a pretty remarkable job of getting sentiment right, albeit for a highly limited period of time and number of tweets.
A similar site for tracking sentiment in real-time is Twendz. As tweets stream down the page, Twendz not only monitors sentiment (positive, negative, and neutral), but also related subtopics and their sentiment. You might, for example, track "Disney" and also learn the sentiment on terms like "Gomez" (actress Selena), "World" (Walt Disney World resort), and "Channel" (the Disney cable net). (In my decidedly non-scientific evaluation of TweetFeel and Twendz, it seemed TweetFeel tended to gauge sentiment with a bit more accuracy.)
Track Tweets in Real Time
There are plenty of tools available to watch tweets scroll across your screen. Monitter permits users to enter up to three terms and observe tweets as they occur. TweetGrid is a similar tool that gives you control of how many windows and terms you wish to monitor--choose from grids such as 1x2 (for two real-time search windows) up to 3x3 (nine windows) and 2x5 (10 small, hyperactive windows).
Twazzup isn't technically real-time but does refresh often, combining the latest tweets along with news, photos, popular links, and the Twitterers who are most influential or most active at the moment.
And, of course, Twitter.com also presents search results in real-time--just use the "Search" box on the right side of your Twitter page, and watch for the "Refresh" message to appear at the top of the search results.
A fun tool for tracking tweets in real-time is Twistori. This site only tracks tweets that contain "I hate," "I love," "I think," "I believe," "I feel" and "I wish." It's like spying on the secret diaries of millions.
Track Who is Following You
Twitter does not furnish a good way to tell if someone in particular is following you. You could review your follower list page by page, or you might try sending someone a Direct Message to see if it goes through or is rejected, but there is an easier method: Just enter your and their Twitter handle into DoesFollow, and you can quickly find out if that person if following you.
Another handy site is FriendorFollow.com. This slow site will try your patience, but it is an effective way to discover the people you are following on Twitter who are not returning the favor ("Following"). You can also see a reverse list--people following you who you're not following back ("Fans.")
Track Tweeted Backlinks
Wonder who is tweeting links to your blog or site? BackTweets reverse engineers those link shortening tools to provide you with a list of recent tweets that include links to a specified URL. You can enter the root domain (such as nytimes.com) to view tweets that furnish a link to any page within that domain.
Primary Research via Twitter
All of the tools mentioned thus far are fine for secondary research, but what if you want specific information from your followers? You could just tweet a question, or you could use a tool to conduct a poll.
PollDaddy couldn't be simpler--just enter your question, up to 20 optional answers, and your Twitter username and password. The site tweets your question and a link, then tracks the responses. The only problem is that it can be easy to lose your poll, since there is no way to register and track the polls you created; the only way to track the results is to save the link Tweeted so you can access it a later date after the responses are received.
Vizu offers a free and powerful polling tool. You can access your past polls, export results, and see a map of your responders. Polls are easily posted to Social Bookmarking sites or embedded into blogs.
Those are a few of my favorite free Twitter tools. Did I miss yours? If so, please comment and share your favorite knowledge-gathering Twitter sites!